It is not very often that you receive an email from NEGARA BRUNEI DARULSALAAM, the place of Peace, a small country situated in BORNEO, right on the Equator… ruled by Sultan Sir Hossanul Bolkiah, an absolute monarchy, in one of the oldest monarchies in the world. There are only two official sultanates in this world. (If you want a clue, I have been to the other sultanate, and my dear friends would like to include the Sultanate of Baracoa but it does not count for this purpose). There are other sultans with titles with no power, such as the Sultan of Ternate, Sultan of Johor etc but Sultan Sir Hossanul Bolkiah rules this small sliver of a country, possibly the most prosperous one in Asia, like the other sultan Qaboos, is blessed with oil deposits. All signs are in Arabic and English, even though neither are the official languages, Malay is, as Moslem is the official religion of this country. 90 per cent of the population is supposed to be Moslem, alas, the poor Chinese. This is a rich country, better stated, this is a country inhabited by rich people, and as long as you are a Moslem everything is free: houses, car, education, scholarships and free veils are thrown in I am sure, since all the girls and women are covered top to bottom.
The night has fallen. The Air Asia Airbus 320 took slightly over 2 hours to reach Brunei Airport from Kuala Lumpur, a short flight to cover this distance of time and memories.
What is this sultan of Baracoa doing in Brunei?
Can’t be the food.
Can’t be the scenery.
Certainly it can’t be the intellectual standards of the locals.
My heart feels a little heavy.
When I was a child, this is where my parents used to live, in a village called Kuala Belait, which I shall visit tomorrow.
A time of innocence, when each flower in bloom had an open message, a world without cynicism, long afternoons soaked with its humid air from the river that flew swiftly into the equatorial sea... The South China Sea
That period spent with my parents, incidentally the only period in my life that I spent time with both my parents, taught me a lesson.
Wherever in the world you go, do not lose that innocence
Leave cynicism to those others who would rather loose sleep over it.
Always extend a helping hand to those who stretch theirs to meet or even too feeble to stretch their hands, the beauty and the possibilities will be revealed to you...
Many hands, friends and other lovers had entered since then, given gentle hellos and kisses and long gone. Some left a trace and the others vanished in the mist of time.
I sit here, in this night market, surrounded by pale girls with covered heads, flamboyant madams with flowing robes in large prints, obvious in their cheapness, older men looking older by the minute.
Some of them could use the help of a person specializing in Diabetes! Prosperity does bring Diabetes to the land!
The people look either bored, moronic or homosexual-something I observed in Malaysia as well, very little spirituality, despite veils and caps, this is the face of uniformity, that commonness people so very much long for, this penchant to be less than nothing.
Nasi Lemak, rice, a fish paste, a chicken drumstick lukewarm, ½ Euro. The Tahrek, strong tea with condensed milk, ½ euro. Taste is again common; this Sultan of Baracoa has eaten better in Baracoa.
This is closing of a circle for me. I knew lots of people here in Brunei once upon a time and now I know no one. Like Jamaica, Malmo, Galveston, St Louis, Brisbane... places that filled my heart with pleasures and kisses, now stand empty of them. Empty even of memories.
The rough landscape of the tropics, from memory, now lined up in prime obedient fashion, by some Princeton education landscape architect, possibly a Singaporean with linear tastes, taking away the natural beauty of the tropics, which once sowed life and breath into these humid airs.
This once was a hammock of my loves. To think that this air one carried the voices of my father, olav ha shalom, and my mother and my sister spent some of their happiest moments under this sky... in a village called Kuala Belair, surrounded by aunties and uncles, many of them dead and dispersed.
One can only look forward, a good lesson learned in Cuba and by reading the tales of that erstwhile neocolonial writer, who happens to write in the language that I adore, English, Sir VSNaipaul. My life has been a project, but who writes the script? On which stage is the theatre? But unlike the King unleashing in Shakespearean Macbeth about life being a metaphor for a play put on by idiots... this story has been a pleasant one, always with new and exciting possibilities, new doors opening. Like right now, my heart rests restlessly in Paris, my soul wanders like Orishas over the island of our dreams, and the love I feel for you, each and every one of my friends. As I write this, at this night market, possibly the only Jew in this entire sultanate, the only foreigner eating here, at this night market surrounded by curious eyes.
I shall say thanks to the spirits. First Shabbat in Merida, the second one in the Blue House, the third in Kuala Lumpur and the next one? Siem Reap? , I thank the spirits for having brought all of you into my life, preciously building it, stone by stone, kisses and hugs and affection that only Cubans can give... ah mi isla Rica….
I must hurry, there is a patient waiting for me in Siem Reap (brother Jim thought it could be Mitral Valve Prolaps), a Burmese curry is being prepared, my little ones in Baracoa are anxious for my return: Mari 1 and Mari 2, Chinita and Claudia, my dear Yanetsy dearer to me than a collection of clouds over the mountains of Baracoa, all of them enveloping with their kisses all the love they so give me, my Cuban hearts, without reservations and without questions.
Like Augusto Monterosso (Guatemala, Mexico and friend of Cuba) wrote in his famous one line poem
When I awoke, the Dinosaurs was still there
When I wake up from my sweet dreams and optimistic illusions in Paris, I will say to myself
When I awoke, all friends that I love and adore were still there.
About 20 000 km away from here in various destinations, including, not limited to,
As far away as Sao Paolo
As close as Malaya (colonial peninsular Malaya and Singapore)
Gracias amigos, Muito Obrigado.
Why have I come back here?
Brunei is a crucial link for me, for, at one time my cultural identity was tied to this geography
Brunei eased me from an Asian to an Australian Identity
Brunei made me realize, and it still does, that I am not an Asian, in the sense of Pensamiento (ways of thinking, my world view)
I never longed for Brunei, as I did for Cochin or Malacca, how can you long for something of a loss from which you grew?
I t was an oblivion rather than a loss.
I felt I had a desire to close two parts of my life: infancy when I was looked after by Auntie CC who now lives in solitude of sorts in Kuala Lumpur, who looked after me during those difficult days, and that distant period in Brunei which gave me an identity. I am not in touch with anyone who was part of my life before my life in Brunei, except of course my mother and my sister, and would like to be in touch with Auntie CC.
Now I will go to sleep, peacefully, thinking about Paris, Havana and Baracoa
I knew I will never lose Cuba, when my Cuban mother, Lucia, said to me: Son, outsiders come and fall in love with Cubans; you have fallen in love with Cuba!
Thus Australia and Cuba are the two special places in my life, my two homes of the Soul. (The home of the heart is Paris, of course). Miami helped me become a Cuban; Brunei helped me become an Australian
So dear dear friends, here I am, as transparent as you can see. I have an Australian Passport, a Cuban Soul, a Parisian Heart and an unending Jewish curiosity for things around me...
Sudah Yehuda Kovesh S
Sultan of Baracoa in the land of Sultan Hossanul Bolkiah
Brunei had been mentioned as early as the 5th century of the Common Era. The indefatigable navigator Zheng He had travelled here and made the sultan of Brunei a vassal of china.
It is midnight, I am sitting at a Lounge at Kuala Lumpur Airport. A short 2 hour 20 minute flight brought me here from Brunei. I am waiting for my flight to Siem Reap in Cambodia.
My visit to Brunei was eventful. Three days. Visited Kuala Belait, of memories but there was nothing to be had. I could not recognize anything since nothing has remained. The house we stayed has been erased to make room for a helicopter pad, the hospital with its quaint verandas where my father worked, has been demolished and incorporated into a modern hospital in a town ten miles away, the school, the one storey school where I taught children slightly younger than myself during school holidays, now is a three story modern and garish building, the priests must be happy at their acquisition. More and more fiiipino and Indonesian faces on the streets, sweet tamouls from tanjore district. Found a place to have south Indian food, nice hotel to stay in kuala Belait. A very satisfying visit, connecting to a past. I shouldn’t have stayed away too long. A childhood friend has grown up and I was not there to see it. Now the place is different. There are other people, dvd stores and gone are the simple Chinese stores, now they are selling cellular phones and electronics, imported stuff, in this state supported consumerism.
I did not resent anything. Felt grateful for those days in Brunei living with father and mother and sister which were really enjoyable and a created social ambience with people we had very little in common with. We were all exiles at that time thrown together. Less expatriates of that sort nowadays, more and more young labourers, called foreigners, who come and go every two years, with no attachment to the land to the country or no time to contribute anything to the land or the language.
I also visited Seria, a nameless town with little character of its own except that it is where the oil fields are. Met a nice man Abdul Salam from Pondicherry, a man who admired Fidel and Hugo Chavez.. ah well..
Back in Brunei, a trip to the tropical vegetations of Temburong district, nearly one hour by a pleasant boat ride, through canals and rivers and at times as broad as the sea. Nypa palms, mangroves and occasional coconut palms. Herons plying, crocodiles might have been watching us but I was unaware of it.
Two lovely malay girls at Swiss Hotel in Kuala Belait, a nice manager there, a friendly Chinese receptionist at Terrace Hotel which was the old Ang’s hotel..
Every one was pleasant. No rudeness of the Singaporeans or the passive aggressiveness of the Malaysian Malays.. Just the neocolonialism without any responsibility..
From now on, I will think of Brunei in fonder terms than before. I feel connected to it once again.